The game that put Willie Roaf on the map

Nearly 10 years before the NFC South even came into existence, there was a pivotal college game that helped shape the history of two of the division’s franchises.

It took place on Sept. 26, 1992, at Alabama’s Legion Field. History says that the Crimson Tide defeated Louisiana Tech 13-0 that day, but that doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

What’s significant about that day was the matchup of Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Willie Roaf against Alabama defensive end Eric Curry. Paired with defensive end John Copeland, Curry was one of the best-known players in the nation. Roaf, barely recruited out of high school, had started to attract some attention, but that game put him firmly on the radar of NFL scouts.

On that day, Curry’s final statistical line had zeroes in the categories for sacks and tackles.

“I say that was a big game because they were the No. 1-ranked defense and those guys got drafted real high,’’ Roaf said in a recent conference call. “I had a pretty good game and pretty much got after them. It was a step-up game for me as far as playing those guys.’’

On Saturday, Roaf will take the ultimate step up. He’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He’ll become just the second player to spend the bulk of his career with the Saints to be inducted (linebacker Rickey Jackson was the first). Roaf played for the Saints from 1993 through 2001, then went to the Kansas City Chiefs until 2005. In his career, he was selected to 11 Pro Bowls; he was named first-team All-Pro four times with the Saints and three times with the Chiefs. He made the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s and the 2000s.

But let’s go back to that day in 1992 and look a little more at how it affected two franchises. Although the Saints were up and down during Roaf’s time with them, they always could count on having one of the league’s best left tackles. Part of what sold the Saints on Roaf was how well he played against Curry. That game, no doubt, played a major role in why the Saints selected Roaf with the eighth overall pick in the 1993 draft.

Maybe Tampa Bay’s scouts, coaching staff and front office should have watched the tape of Curry and Roaf a little more closely, because it might have shown some warning signs. Instead, the Bucs learned their lesson the hard way.

They used the No. 6 overall pick in that draft to take Curry. Aside from an overly enthusiastic hug of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on draft day, Curry provided no highlights during his time with the Buccaneers. He produced 12.5 sacks in five seasons in Tampa Bay and went down with Broderick Thomas as one of the Bucs’ all-time draft busts.

Speaking of busts, Roaf will have his on display in the Hall of Fame.